Public records shine light on dark recesses of government secrecy
KAXE News Director Chelsey Perkins discusses the public's right to government data and how that access helps to fact-check news tips or social media rumors.
“Open government is good government.”
This is the tagline for Sunshine Week, an effort launched by the American Society of News Editors to highlight the importance of access to public information and what it means for communities.
Celebrated in March by news organizations, civic groups and educators across the United States, Sunshine Week creates an opportunity for journalists to point to their role in shining light into the dark recesses of government secrecy, as the Society of Professional Journalists states. But it’s also important for the average citizen to understand the many laws establishing public access to government records apply to everyone, said Chelsey Perkins, KAXE news director, on the Thursday, March 16, Morning Show.
“You don’t need to be a journalist to access this information,” Perkins told hosts Heidi Holtan and Kari Hedlund. “You know, I don’t have a license to be a journalist. Anyone who wants this information — and I’m talking public records that are available about your government, police agencies, courts — all of that information is available to anyone.
“But as a journalist, you know, it’s my job also to look at that information and ensure that if there’s things that the public should know about how their government is operating, that it’s put into the press.”
In Minnesota, robust statutes outline the documents governments must retain and spell out in detail the records to which members of the public have access. In many cases, that information is already available online, but sometimes, data requests are necessary to unearth public records.
"I don’t have a license to be a journalist. Anyone who wants this information — and I’m talking public records that are available about your government, police agencies, courts — all of that information is available to anyone."Chelsey Perkins, KAXE news director
Perkins explained the process journalists or members of the public should take to seek confirmation of news tips and the role public records can play in fact-checking claims made by anyone ranging from public officials to social media commenters.
“It’s always about going to the sources of information and cross-referencing it across multiple sources,” Perkins said. “You can’t report something based on a social media rumor without double-checking it through the most official channels possible. And sometimes that means not reporting it at all, because it turns out to be just not quite right.”
Listen to the full conversation, including more on the future of the KAXE newsroom, above.
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